Edgecliff Village resident Angela Rainey wanted to hear directly from her congressman.

So, she attended U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey’s recent town hall meeting at the Southside Community Center. Communicating face-to-face with the Fort Worth Democrat means a lot to Rainey.

“If you can come to us and give us respect and show us that we matter, it makes a difference,” she said. 

The effectiveness of town hall meetings and how they impact public policy is still up in the air, according to a North Texas political science professor. Research has shown that lawmakers who go to town halls are most likely to be legislatively effective.

Not enough research exists on whether town halls are effective for persuading people, informing lawmakers or making people feel differently about democracy, said Mark Hand, assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington. 

Between 2013 and 2021, federal lawmakers held over 23,000 town hall meetings, according to the Center for Effective Lawmaking. According to the research, lawmakers who propose more meaningful bills — legislation more impactful to people’s daily lives — tend to hold greater numbers of town hall meetings. 

“It might be that these town halls do actually force legislators into thinking a little bit different and being more effective when they go back to Congress,” Hand said. 

Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat, told the Fort Worth Report that hosting in-person town hall meetings allows him to come up with new ideas when he returns to Washington, D.C. 

“It gives people an opportunity to talk with me directly,” Veasey said. “And for a lot of people, they would never bring these issues up were I not to have this town hall meeting.”

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, said in 2017 that she would stop holding town hall meetings because she didn’t feel safe. The representative invited constituents to call her office and made appointments to talk with her privately. 

Rep. Granger’s office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comments from the Fort Worth Report. 

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn recently made public appearances at The Woodlands, Dallas, Grapevine, Austin and San Antonio. According to a spokeswoman for Cornyn, his office also received several thousand emails, phone calls and messages a day. 

“A member of our legislative staff reviews every opinion expressed in a phone call, voicemail, letter, or email and responds to all written opinions as soon as they can,” she said in an email.

Residents listen to U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, during a town hall meeting Aug. 24, 2023, at the Southside Community Center. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

Cornyn was the most effective Republican senator and second overall in the 117th Congress, according to a study released by the Center for Effective Lawmaking. Of the 102 bills Cornyn put forward, 23 passed the Senate, and 15 of them became law, according to the study. 

Hand cannot answer whether town halls are more or less likely to help politicians win their elections. However, he believes that many Americans can be persuaded by a public forum to sway toward either party, he said. 

“The more time you spend in front of your constituents, the more likely you’re going to be able to reflect the wishes of those constituents as you go for reelection,” Hand said.

Some lawmakers are experimenting with different ways to gain insight from their constituents, Hand said. One option is to hold virtual meetings. 

“We’ve got much better communication technologies available to us right now, so online town halls might actually prove more effective than in-person town halls if they’re managed well,” he said. 

Veasey periodically holds virtual town hall meetings on different topics. One meeting to discuss scam calls attracted over 5,000 attendees, he said. 

While different from in-person town hall meetings, where he can see people face-to-face, the virtual events still allow people to “get something off their chest,” he said. 

People attend town hall meetings for various reasons, including holding their elected officials accountable, Hand said. Residents who attend may gain a better understanding of how complicated government is and, as a result, feel less cynical about policymaking. 

In-person town halls allow people to get together to share ideas and listen to each other, Crowley resident Cindy Rocha said.

“For any representative, it’s a chance to meet and have your face recognized,” Rocha said. 

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at dang.le@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Dang Le is a reporting fellow. He can be reached at dang.le@fortworthreport.org. Le has a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. He was the editor-in-chief at The Shorthorn, UTA’s...